Bin Badal Barsaat (1975) takes its title from a 1963 Indian horror film but tells a story not of curses but of a couple’s struggle to produce and raise a family. Zarina (Zeba) and Judge Akbar Ali (Mohammad Ali) are hopeful that at last they might have a child after several years of trying unsuccessfully. Zarina is so upset by her apparent infertility she advises Akbar Ali to find a second wife if the situation continues: “A wife who can’t produce a child is not worth anything.”
A few months later, Zarina does in fact deliver a healthy boy but through a series of twists of fate, double crosses and colossal misreadings of the tea leaves. The boy, Anwar, goes missing and ends up as a Pakistani Oliver Twist, cutting people’s pockets as part of a gang of beggars and prostitutes led by an obese and lecherous Fagin called Dada (Ilyas Kashmiri). Eventually, through yet more incredible strokes of luck, tortured confessions and even torture itself, the family is reunited thanks to the efforts of the golden-hearted dancing girl Gori, played by the stunning beauty Sangeeta, and her reformed pickpocket fiance Badhshah (Shahid).
Though this film was a big hit, there is not much to recommend it as far as the storyline, script or acting goes. Once again, it is some of the music and one performance that save the day.
Sangeeta’s playful enactment of the good-hearted but mistreated dancing girl Gori shows up all the leading big names. By comparison, Mohammad Ali and Zeba seem to sleep walk through their parts. A Karachi actor, Sangeeta got her start in Yeh Aman (1971) but is perhaps best remembered for her work behind the camera as producer and director of such films as Society Girl, Nikah and Muthi Bhar Chawal (Fist Full of Rice).
In this film Sangeeta sticks to acting and dancing and leaves the direction to yet another woman, Zeenat. After Partition, Zeenat produced and directed half a dozen other films beginning with Khula Ja Sim Sim (1959). Her last appearance as director came in 1980 with Aap ki Khatir. Like so much else in Pakistan, it comes a pleasant surprise that in a country with such deep prohibitions against women working in the public sphere, and that too in such an industry as the movies, these women were able to martial the resources and withstand the severe social pressure to make so many films.
The music for Bin Badal Barsaat was composed by another woman, Shamim Nazli, sister of playback singer Mala. In a critical scene near the film’s denouement, Nazli inserts one of the Sabri brothers’ most popular songs Bhar Do Jholi to accompany a distraught Mohammad Ali, who has gone to a shrine to pray for forgiveness and mercy and the safe return of his Anwar. The emotional tension is heightened by the qawwali beat, acute lyrics and resounding voices of the Sabris, who give a genuine qawaali performance rather than a rip-off filmi qawaali number.
In the mid-1970s, three giants of qawaali music were vying, sometimes bitterly, for top spot in listeners; hearts. On the one hand, a raucous, dishevelled and brilliant upstart from Lahore named Aziz Mian had sent shockwaves through polite society and the qawaali world with his hypnotic paeans to drunkenness and spiritual complaints. Horrified and scandalised, the Karachi-based sibling duo Sabri Brothers represented the traditional, less ecstatic, devotional stream of qawaali. The brothers and Aziz Mian traded barbs publicly and in song, but all three sang their way to the bank, making fortunes through their cassettes and live concerts.
Bin Badal Barsaat may not be top quality cinema but as a study of the role of women in Lollywood, both on and off the screen, it is a film well worth viewing.
Nate Rabe’s novel, The Shah of Chicago, is out now from Speaking Tiger.
A version of this story appeared on the blog https://dailylollyblog.wordpress.com/ and has been reproduced here with permission.